Sunday, May 29, 2011

An accepted expedient of public administration

The concluding remarks of Maurice Kay LJ in the Sharon Shoesmith case (see previous post) compare her case with that of Rose Gibb (see Court of Appeal judgement in that case). Shoesmith's problem was a report by Ofsted, whereas Gibb had to deal with a report on the superbug, C. difficile, by the Heathcare Commission. As far as the learned judge was concerned, in both cases it seemed "that the making of a public sacrifice to deflect press and public obloquy ....  remains an accepted expedient of public administration in this country".

The problem is that regulators' reports may be written to maintain public confidence by identifying mistakes and errors of judgement, rather than being a truly independent assessment. Such inquiries therefore are used to achieve political aims. Written with the benefit of hindsight bias they rarely show that people have acted with bad faith or without reasonable care. Instead scapegoats are found.

Rose Gibb clearly thinks this happened to her (see I was victimised, demonised). As does Sharon Shoesmith. Similar processes were at work in the mid-Staffs inquiry (see past blog entry). As I've mentioned in a previous post, Robert Francis has the chance to correct this scapegoating in his review of health regulators.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ed Balls says he would be unfair again

Government and Ofsted have got some learning to do about the Sharon Shoesmith case (see Haringey Independent story).

The Department for Education thinks it was right in principle to sack her. The principle has already been decided by the Court of Appeal and I think it's unlikely the Supreme Court will allow an appeal. And, the court wasn't just saying there should have been a meeting between Ed Balls and Sharon Shoesmith but that she should have been given the opportunity to put her case.

Her case was against the Ofsted report, which as I have pointed out in a previous post seemed light on detail to anyone who bothered to look at it. I don't think it's clear that Ofsted came to a sound conclusion based on evidence (again, see Haringey Independent story). There was no challenge to the Ofsted findings in the legal case, but as the judges themselves said (see their summary decision), their "task was the more limited one of deciding whether those whose decisions affected her [Shoesmith] followed procedures complying with the law’s requirements of fairness" [their emphasis]. In fact, they did not "feel able to accept that the adoption of a fair procedure would inevitably have led to the same outcome".

And David Cameron doesn't seem to understand that accountability is not about what the government decides is right or wrong (see Guardian story). It's this political error that society needs to correct. This kind of political pressure leads to regulators getting things wrong. Perhaps Cameron should think more about his politics (see past blog entry).

And the government should get on and implement the Munro report to improve child protection (see previous post). That's more important than Ed Balls' ego.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why the delay in government response to Munro report?

The Final Report of the Munro Review of Child Protection has been published today. It'll be interesting to see if social work can really move on from "a defensive system that puts so much emphasis on procedures and recording that insufficient attention is given to developing and supporting the expertise to work effectively with children, young people and families".

Government should embrace the review but instead is going to take its time to consider it. It's been easier to scapegoat people such as Sharon Shoesmith (see previous post) rather than set up what Munro calls a 'learning culture'. Government has not taken any heed previously of this message. It must have been clear which way the review was going, so I think it would be helpful if ministers could explain why they haven't got their response ready.
An executive summary of a major research programme on safeguarding children has also been published. The concluding message from the research document is "A key question for policy makers is how to ensure that improvements are better implemented in the drive to increase the effectiveness of services, and why it is so difficult to do so". Maybe it's made more difficult because government is more concerned what the Sun thinks than Professor Munro.

Meanwhile, perhaps people can learn from some of Eileen Munro's publications:  Learning together to safeguard children and Learning to reduce risk in child protection